Time to Retire Ideological Exclusion

Good news for the First Amendment! Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signed orders earlier this week that effectively end the ideological exclusion of Professors Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan, two prominent scholars who were denied visas to enter the United States under the Bush administration. In two separate lawsuits, the ACLU represents a handful of American organizations that have invited the scholars to speak to American audiences.

Professor Ramadan is Chair of Contemporary Islamic Studies at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. In 2004, he accepted a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, but the U.S. government revoked his visa just days before he was to begin teaching there. We filed suit in 2006 challenging his exclusion on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center.

Professor Habib is a respected political analyst and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Advancement at the University of Johannesburg, and a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and some U.S. terrorism-related policies. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2007 challenging his exclusion on behalf of the American Sociological Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights.

The orders signed by Secretary Clinton state that, in the future, Professors Habib and Ramadan will not be denied visas on the same grounds that they were denied them in 2006 and 2007. To enter the United States, however, the scholars will need to apply for visas — a process likely to take several weeks. We're hopeful that given the order from Secretary Clinton herself, their visa applications will be granted post-haste.

Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project and counsel in the Habib and Ramadan cases, said in a statement yesterday:

The Obama administration should now conduct a broader review of visas denied under the Bush administration, reverse the exclusions of others who were barred because of their political beliefs and retire the practice of ideological exclusion for good.

The practice of ideological exclusion violates Americans' First Amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the U.S. To learn more about the history of ideological exclusion, check out our related flash feature.


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